Sunday, 17 July 2011

Fan y big horseshoe race

This event forms the second half of the Brecon Fans race weekend organised by the Mynydd Du.

On the Saturday, competitors run a short 'AS' race with a lot of climbing up to the top of Pen y fan, the highest point of the Brecon Beacons. The following day runners take part in a longer distance 'BM' run that has more gradual climbing and follows the Fan y big horseshoe circuit: distance about 10.5miles with roughly 2500' ascent.

The route heads out through fields from Llanfrynach before heading up a long steady climb up Cefn Cyff and on to the FyB summit. From here you can open up your strides on mostly fairly level ground around Craig Cwmoergwm and Bwlch y Ddwyallt; the head of the horseshoe. Then, as the saying goes, it's a simple case of 'brakes off brain off' back down to the village.

"Almost Athletes?" smiles the man taking the entries as Mike hands over his £6. "Never heard of them before..."

The heavy fine rain that had been sweeping down over us whilst we made our race preparations has gone as we gaggle together for the start. There's a fit looking bloke wearing a Dark Peak vest standing ahead of everyone doing his warm ups - he looks like he means business. I'm feeling like I could do without the coming effort as we collectively shuffle towards the line...

The humidity builds as we head out through the fields, up lanes and finally a loose cobbled track before we break out into the welcome sights and smells of the lower fellside. Al Tye is sat under a hawthorn bush taking photographs of the runners as they pass.

Jamie - on the left




Upwards along a billiard table grass path peppered with sheep shit that cuts a swathe through the green bracken. Jamie's up ahead and going well but I can't summon the motivation to push hard enough to stay with him.

Peel off the helly hansen and put my vest back on when the gradient slows me to a walk. A Mercia runner called Mel who I remember racing against on the Stretton Skyline a couple of years back comes past - running. My striding pace keeps up with her for a bit before she pulls ahead. Then another Mercia runner catches me up and says in a friendly way that he's 'clucked' if he's going to run this bit - and then breaks into a run. I decide to go with him.

Jamie's blue top is miles ahead already. Away to the right Cribyn is smothered in cloud. The wind is picking up again, bringing a few spits of rain with it. We're into the tussock and wet peat. I'm finding my feet at long last and it feels good to be out.

"Hello. Thanks. 285", to the marshall at the summit checkpoint. "14th" I think I hear him tell me.

The Mercia runner is suddenly 50m ahead, so with the wind at my back I kick out aiming to close the gap. But he's a proficient guy and every time I glance up from where I'm putting my feet he's a little bit further away.

There's a flap, flap flapping of a race number about a metre behind my right shoulder. By now I've had enough of being overtaken so I turn it up. It goes quiet for a bit but ominously the noise comes back.

We pass the first of a series of unenthusiastic-looking, bergen carrying squaddies as we turn for home.

"Bloody hell, he's got a gun!", I say. "Don't annoy him...", says Flapping Number.

He's on my shoulder all the way down Rhiw Bwlch y Ddwyallt and then there's three of us as Dave (aka themadrunner) appears on my left wearing his bright orange woolly hat. I'm genuinely surprised as I thought he was way ahead and out of site but I push on, narrowly avoiding a squaddie, conscious that I'm leading the group and likely to pay for it later.

I try to shake off Flapping Number as we come onto the lower slopes through bracken and gorse where the marked route begins to emerge again. He overtakes when the gradient steepens and I slow down. At the bottom of the slope I hear Dave come crashing down the slope close behind.

Onto the tarmac again and I'm racing to try to get back in the running. My mind is getting tired and I run right up to a gate without deciding whether to jump it, look for a stile or open it and the few seconds it takes me to negotiate the catch are utterly maddening. [There was some swearing... But I found out later that Dave had the presence of mind and good values to give me that time back]

Back down into the village and I'm having a teenage strop. Dave comes past and I let him go.

"Reckon you can get me if you dig deep..."
"Can't be arsed..."

And that's it. He puts in a good effort and finishes well whereas I can't bring myself to go into the red zone any more. Lame.

Jamie's managed a very respectable 9th place and pretty much keeled over after coming over the line. I'm stood in a little stream talking to him when Chris (doing his first fell race) comes in about a minute and a half later and then Mike not all that much further behind.

"There's a better stream over here," says a guy who I recognise from Shropshire events and the Three Peaks, so we pick our way down to a deep pool overhung with trees. We get immersed and the cold water is the perfect antidote.

The race is won by a 19-year-old who's travelled up from Cornwall. Helen Fines has set a new ladies record for the course. But the biggest clap during the good natured giving of spot prizes goes to the man with the camera...